Human Landscapes, Virtue and Beauty, by David E. Cooper

By ‘human landscapes’, is meant parks, gardens, farmland and other landscapes that patently bear the impress of human intervention, including building. Many questions concerning the relation of ethical to aesthetic considerations about human landscapes can be raised. For example, is ‘aesthetic pollution’ of an environment also a moral offence? The question addressed in this paper is how, if at all, ethical considerations are relevant to aesthetic appreciation of human landscapes. In the first half of the paper, I reject the familiar view that the moral provenance and/or effects of a landscape affect its aesthetic qualities. (Eg. A seemingly beautiful verdant park is not beautiful if the water it requires causes serious environmental damage). I argue that the mere knowledge that a landscape has certain causal connections of a morally significant kind cannot alter a genuinely aesthetic judgement – though it may prompt a person to suspend aesthetic attention. For the moral aspects of a place to affect an aesthetic judgement they must, as it were, show up or figure in the experience of the place. This leads into the second half of the paper, which defends the ‘virtue-centric’ claim that an aesthetically admired landscape is experienced as having virtues – or, more precisely, as having features which, when possessed by human beings, are virtues. (Eg. In some cultures, to find a parkland graceful, noble and constrained is to admire it aesthetically). Put oversimply, a human landscape is beautiful when it exemplifies virtue. I proceed, after defending the claim against certain objections, to argue that a main merit of the virtue-centric approach is its considerable explanatory power. It explains why the beauty of human landscapes, and much else, matters a great deal to people. (It matters because virtue (and vice) matter). It also explains, much more plausibly than the ‘eye of the beholder’ account of beauty, the significant differences between cultures in the appreciation of landscapes. It renders these differences interesting by grounding them in different moral perspectives. (Eg. Differences in 17th C. Japanese and Italian tastes in gardens surely reflect differences in the kinds of virtues prominent in the moral thinking of the respective societies). The paper ends with the proposal that there is such an intimacy between moral and aesthetic sensibilities that the sharp distinction made between them in modern times is artificial, and registers an abstraction in effect from the conception of the good life articulated by the thinkers of ancient Greece and China.

David E. Cooper, Durham University, UK

Harvard Citation Guide: Cooper, D. (2012) Human Landscapes, Virtue and Beauty, International Society for the Philosophy of Architecture, [blog] 23 May 2012, Available at: [Accessed: 01 June 2012].

Landscape, Imagination and Morality, Ian Thompson

This paper explores the agency of ‘landscape imaginaries’.  The notion of a landscape imaginary is related to the philosopher Charles Taylor’s use of the term ‘social imaginary’ to refer to ‘the way in which our contemporaries imagine the societies they inhabit and sustain’.   Imaginaries are not expressed in theoretical terms but are carried in images, stories and legends.  From the perspective of landscape architecture, one of the important things we need to do is to identify the imaginaries we have inherited from the past which continue to shape our landscapes and constrain our environmental choices today. Designers have a particular responsibility because not only do they make aesthetically and ethically loaded choices about how the world will be, but they can also reinforce and perpetuate harmful imaginaries or initiate new ones, hopefully less harmful.  To illustrate this the paper considers the influence, both for good and ill, of the pastoral-picturesque imaginary.

Ian Thompson, Newcastle University, UK

Harvard Citation Guide: Thompson, I. (2012) Landscape, Imagination and Morality, International Society for the Philosophy of Architecture, [blog] 23 May 2012, Available at: [Accessed: 01 June 2012].

Do We have Ethical and Aesthetic Obligations to Respect Landscapes?, by Isis Brook

Traditionally we have thought of ethical obligations as placing constraints on our behaviour towards other humans and, later, sentient animals. With the rise of environmental ethics these obligations were re-examined and in some cases broadened to include living entities and/or communities such as ecosystems or species. However, that broadening – when focused on the intrinsic value of entities and systems – did not include what were perceived as cultural constructs: buildings, planned environments, and landscapes. If we were seen as having obligations of any kind regarding such things it was due to their importance to humans or other entities with intrinsic value. A core feeling in environmental ethics was that it was time for human preferences and desires to take a backseat; thus, the built or designed environment, even cultural landscapes, were not regarded as important except in regard to their impact on ecosystems or, for example, biodiversity potential. The fact that protection of wilderness was at the foreground of environmental thinking meant that cultural landscapes, if considered at all, tended to be thought of as defiled or degraded regions that only the uninformed would mistake for the real thing.

The idea of aesthetic obligations is unusual and, if it has any purchase at all (beyond a Wildean extravagance), would generally be seen as resting on ethical obligations to respect the aesthetic preferences of other humans. And yet an aesthetic response to something that is out of place or inappropriate as somehow ‘wrong’ is not, at base, a feeling that it is wrong because others would similarly be upset by it or deprived of a pleasing view; rather, it is a feeling that it is ‘wrong for this place’ per se. We feel the landscape has been treated disrespectfully; that it has been wronged regardless of other human preferences or perceptions. By the same token, developments or changes to a landscape that feel ‘right’ can feel ‘right for the place’ not just right in a second-order way, that is, in a way that is dependent on other appreciators of the place. Of course one would hope that there is a commonly felt sense of rightness, but it would be shared because it is ‘right for the place’ not because it was in accord with individual preferences that just happen to be similar.

This paper will examine these different axiological approaches to the question of respect for cultural landscapes and ask whether the moral or aesthetic – or a merging of the two – can be used to defend the thesis that landscapes should be respected in their own right, that is, regardless of, or at least prior to, concerns about human preferences. One route to this seemingly impossible task is Fox’s theory of responsive cohesion. Another is Goethean phenomenology. Both can be used to place the human being in a role of service to the landscape itself and thus use our moral/aesthetic sensibilities to make judgements for the good of the landscape.

Isis Brook, Writtle College, UK

Harvard Citation Guide: Brook, I. (2012) Do We have Ethical and Aesthetic Obligations to Respect Landscapes?, International Society for the Philosophy of Architecture, [blog] 23 May 2012, Available at: [Accessed: 01 June 2012].

Landscape Aesthetics: in relation to nature and culture, by Marie Ulber

While people nowadays mostly live in built environments we may ask ourselves: How do we perceive natural landscapes? The starting point of this discussion is that our environment and our way of life in the western world have changed rapidly over the last decades. First, our perception has become used to new sources of imagery such as television, internet and cameras, secondly our everyday mobility has increased very much, and thirdly, what we perceive also has changed through new ways of using, designing or building our environment. In this talk I discuss the potential of the concept of ‘atmospheres’, that originated with the German philosopher Gernot Böhme, to investigate various types of landscapes in relation to how we perceive and what we feel in these surroundings.

Böhme’s new aesthetics “is concerned with the relation between environmental qualities and human states. This ‘and’, this in‐between, by means of which environmental qualities and states are related, is atmosphere.” (Böhme 1993, p 114) The main idea of the new aesthetics is that everything, the built and the natural things, the objects and subjects, tune their environments and, in this way, create spatial moods called atmospheres that we can perceive as embodied feelings. This means that form and design of the environment affect us one way or another by impacting our emotional states.

Gernot Böhme argues that the “primary ‘object’ of perception is atmospheres” (Böhme 1993, p 125). For example, when we enter a room we feel the existing spatial mood, before we make out any details. The fact is, whether we become aware of the atmosphere or not, because we are concentrating on things and signs, it will influence our feelings. Here, I claim that our everyday life and environment shape our perception in particular ways, and that our surroundings have a deep impact on our capacity to feel and to be are aware of atmospheres.

While the concept of atmospheres has already been thought through in a variety of ways, especially how it has been brought into play in the theater and in shops, it has not been considered yet in relation to landscape aesthetics. Based on what we already know about atmospheres, I discuss the physical conditions involved in the experience of atmospheres in particular landscapes. Moreover, I will take into account the natural, anthropogenic and social foundations of atmospheres in the analysis of the relationship between different, humanly influenced landscapes and how we feel in these. I will also include the spatial orientations that characterise the surroundings, their particular moods, and the typical ways of moving within those spaces and the types of action that they facilitate for the perceiver.

My objective in applying the concept of atmospheres to landscape aesthetics is, among other things, to highlight the value of natural landscapes for us today and to show that such natural places deserve protection not just as animal or plant biospheres but also because of their significance for humans.

(Böhme 1993) Böhme Gernot: Atmosphere as the Fundamental Concept of a New Aesthetics, In: Thesis Eleven 36 p. 113‐126

Marie Ulber, University of Weimar, DE

Harvard Citation Guide: Ulber, M. (2012) Landscape Aesthetics: in relation to nature and culture, International Society for the Philosophy of Architecture, [blog] 20 May 2012, Available at: [Accessed: 01 June 2012].

Differences in Landscape Appreciation in Pilot Study of Place Attachment and Collective, by Julia Sulina

Does everybody perceive and appreciate same landscapes and places? If not, can social psychology aspects of collective identity be used to define those differences or similarities between cultural groups? Paper aims to answer these questions by results of pilot qualitative study of place attachment and collective identity.

Aesthetics and ethics of the environment is hided in the relationship of people and place, through identity construction people change and/or choose meaningful places in everyday landscape, while everyday landscape affect people.

Baumgarten definition of aesthetics as sensory experience is narrowed to sensory experience that is followed by cognitive process in which by appreciating environment, it is noticed, remembered or/and given particular meaning. Carlson argues that environmental aesthetic experience requires paying attention on the environment – seeing it as “obstructive foreground”, while knowledge define borders of appreciation of it. According to Berleant participatory model offers aesthetic experience. Places are chosen as study unit as usually associated with particular action and/or participation. Landscape consists of meaningful parts – places (Relph).

Landscape and places within it have collective meanings and clear social dimension. In the perception of the environment, objective situation is combined with associations that person experience of the physical world and of the people (Greenbie), collective identity is also based on mentioned experiences as well as on self-image.

Pilot study presented in the paper recognises importance of place attachment through study of meaningful places aspects together with collective identity. Aspects summarized by Ashmore et al are used in conducted interviews. Basing on qualitative comparison of interviews differences and similarities between two ethnic groups (ethnic Estonians and Russian Estonians) landscape perception, values and place meanings are identified. Bonds with places important for locals are studied taking into account aspects of collective identity (cultural groups) as there is no homogeneity in the ethnic groups.

Ashmore, R. D., Deaux, K., McLaughlin-Volpe, T. 2004. An Organizing Framework for Collective Identity: Articulation and Significance of Multidimensionality. Psychological Bulletin, Vol. 130, No. 1, 80 –114
Berleant, A. 1988. Aesthetic Perception. Environmental aesthetics: theory, research and applications. Nasar, J.L. (ed).
Carlson, A. 2008. Appreciation and the natural environment. Aesthetics: a comprehensive anthology. Cahn, S.M., Meskin, A. (eds).
Greenbie, B.B. 1988 The landscape of social symbols. Environmental aesthetic: theory, research and applications. Nasar, J.L. (ed).
Relph, E. C. 1976. Place and Placelessness.

Julia Sulina, Estonian University of Life Sciences, EE

Harvard Citation Guide: Sulina, J. (2012) Differences in Landscape Appreciation in Pilot Study of Place Attachment and Collective, International Society for the Philosophy of Architecture, [blog] 20 May 2012, Available at: [Accessed: 01 June 2012].

Ethics from the Ground Up/Ethics Being Ground Up, by Michael King

For much of philosophy, the field of ethics concerned human affairs with no substantive consideration of the land. It was not until the 20th Century that ethical systems were developed and codified with respect to the land and the environment: Aldo Leopold’s Land Ethic, Arne Naess’ Deep Ecology, and Murray Bookchin’s radical ecology being a few examples. The roots of these ethical systems, however, can be traced to the Enlightenment, most notably to Spinoza’s pantheism and Kant’s deontology. The latter conceptualized an ethical system founded on the idea of each human individual as an autonomous “end-in-itself,” whereas the former conceived of the world as an interconnected web and espoused an “ethics of immanence.” By transferring the noumenal essence of the human agent to the land itself (Kantian deontology transferred to the land) as well as viewing the universe as being immanent as opposed to transcendent (Spinoza’s pantheism), a preliminary foundation for the ideas of restoration and conservation was established, thereby preparing the ground from which a future “land ethics” might grow. The development of land ethics was further aided by Emerson, Thoreau, and Muir, particularly in their championing of the “natural world.” As this paper will demonstrate, though, the Transcendentalists are better construed as immersionists (as suggested by the philosopher/critic William H. Gass) plunging into matter as opposed to overcoming it. The land ethics growing out of Kant, Spinoza, and the Transcendentalists is one not of transcendence, but of immersion and immanence: an ethics from the ground up. A final consideration to be made is that of Nietzsche’s call for “an architecture for the search for knowledge,” an architecture that leaves behind the structures and strictures of the church for the open space of parkland. Contrasting with this idea as well as the overall thrust of the paper would be Nietzsche’s ethics of amor fati, which obviates the very idea of conservation. Nietzsche’s submersion of ethics into aesthetics by arguing for lives that open up to new possibilities and transformations, i.e., aesthetic or literary lives, calls into question the idea of restoring or maintaining a status quo.

In this paper, we will consider the foundations of such “land ethics”; discuss how the land came to be conceptualized as an “end in itself”; and think about the implications and ramifications of such a transformation in our conceptual thinking. The paper’s goal is to dwell on the very idea of conservation—of what it means to make space and save space.

Michael King, City College of New York, USA

Harvard Citation Guide: King, M. (2012) Ethics from the Ground Up/Ethics Being Ground Up, International Society for the Philosophy of Architecture, [blog] 20 May 2012, Available at: [Accessed: 01 June 2012].

Body and Intellect: the ethical-educative traits of landscape gardening in contemporary art, by Tunde Varga

As Dipesh Chakrabarti has pointed out (2009) the Viconian separation of nature and culture does no longer hold in an age when humanity becomes a geological agent by its very number. The probable collapse of the natural history – human history distinction (in which nature was seen only a timeless backdrop to human activity) thus requires not only a new type of historical consciousness, but also an active and ethically based nature-consciousness, for which possible samples can also be found in recent “sustainable” or “green” art projects. In these projects the natural environment, the cultural environment and the artefact differences are curiously overcome and merge into a multifaceted, multi-sensorial form of art and nature. My paper presents three different projects which represent three divergent approaches and answers to the ethical and educational stakes of the built landscape/natural surrounding unity.

All three projects can be interpreted as a reconceptualization of the 18th century concept of the picturesque, a concept which does not only draw on the intellect by its transcendental immateriality, but incorporates the sensual, bodily experience. The picturesque has two modes, one is the learned when the landscape was looked at as (or looked like) a painting, the second however (which belongs more to landscape gardening) is in which the body has a constituent role, and also in which nature is not frozen, but dynamic and changing. In de Bolla’s view landscape gardening required a new mode of look (which diverges from the gaze and the glance) the sentimental look which is a fully somatic insertion of the eye or of the subject into the visual field.

I will show that the reinterpretations of the theories of the sublime and the picturesque can serve as approaches to three recent littoral, socially engaged, multi-sensuous landscape art projects and to their ethical-educational traits. The first is a till unrealized “top down” Landscape design project, the Vabababa Garden (Újirány Group), which is a model garden for a self-sustaining educational program of a village in Hungary (Homokkő). In this model the educative and ethical roles of Landscape design is amalgamated by functionality, that is it counts on the active use and affect or experience of its visitors.

The second is a grass root organization’s garden design project within the city. A few of the relatively large patios of the apartment houses in poorer districts of the capital (Budapest) were used as the scene of a collaborative garden building design project with the active participation of artists, social activists and the inhabitants, using the garden’s potential as a public art /public place, which is now sustained by the inhabitants whereby a lot knowledge of landscapes and sustainable gardening is passed on to children through their active participation: Gang Group.

The third is also a mixed (unfortunately not long lasting) grassroot project of artist and citizens: the Hints Group initiated a form of guerrilla gardening in the inner city streets, utilizing car tyres as containers, showing possible examples for greening the cityscape.

Tunde Varga, Hungarian University of Fine Art, HU

Harvard Citation Guide: Varga, T. (2012) Body and Intellect: the ethical-educative traits of landscape gardening in contemporary art, International Society for the Philosophy of Architecture, [blog] 20 May 2012, Available at: [Accessed: 01 June 2012].